Facebook gives insight into immigrant identities

U researchers studied the way immigrant students expressed their identities.
November 08, 2010

Like most college students, Yuridia Ramirez spends a lot of time on Facebook. But unlike most college students, Ramirez, a University of Minnesota senior, used the popular social networking site in ways most people don’t think about.

It’s all a part of a project called Minnesota 2.0, a study that concluded immigrant students use Facebook and other social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube to form an identity.

Six undergraduate and two graduate students began working on the project in 2009. They focused on analyzing students from just three ethnic groups: Latino, Hmong and Somali.

The group discovered that, although the ethnic groups identified themselves with many different topics, there were more similarities between them than differences.

"The immigrant experience overall is a lot more unified regardless of what ethnicity you ascribe to," Ramirez said.

The researchers started by joining sites with which the subjects of their group were identified.

Ramirez, who is a Mexican-American student, focused on the ways in which Mexican students communicated on social networking sites. Other students focused on groups they identified with as well.

"We looked at groups, like fan pages, so basically it was just going on Facebook and searching ‘Latino,’ ‘Chicano,’ ‘Mexican,’ all of these different keywords and phrases and then adding myself to these groups," Ramirez said.

The researchers found that immigrant students often talk about things that make up their identities, such as ties to their home country or what constitutes being a Latino or Hmong student.

But among their differences were their areas of conversation. The researchers found that, in general, Mexican and Latino students were often engaged in topics about legal status, but Hmong and Somali students were not, because many Somali and Hmong students are refugees, Ramirez said.

Besides analyzing Facebook groups, the researchers looked at sites — such as CNN Español — in which discussion forums focused on a particular aspect of culture.

"That’s why it’s called 2.0, it’s all about technology and the way that technology is being used to exhibit people’s identities," she said.

While the research-gathering portion of the project concluded in May of last year, the students will continue to present their work to scholars and colleagues.

Ramirez said the project offered her a new outlook on the way students shape their own identities, but was also beneficial for her personally.

"We would meet every week and discuss what we had seen, what we had posted," she said, "and in that way we were also learning about our own identities."

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